Nickel allergy

An allergic dermatitis following from direct contact with nickelous metals; e.g. kitchen utensils, zippers, trinkets, bracelets, and earrings. The symptoms usually appear 1 - 3 days after having been in contact with the metal.

Nickel allergy or nickel dermatitis is a very common form of allergic dermatitis causing sudden itching and a red, stinging, suppurating eczema where the nickelous metals are in direct contact with the body. Moreover, the allergic reactions can involve tiredness and problems concentrating.

Allergic dermatitis is often triggered by having your ears pierced and wearing earrings. If you are very allergic, you will be able to feel the nickel in a metallic object through several layers of clothes. The symptoms can first and foremost be kept down by avoiding contact with nickelous metals. Nickel eczema on the hands is very difficult to treat. Nickel allergy can be demonstrated by means of a hair- or skin test performed by a dermatologist.

Nickel allergy is a problem to many people but it is most common in women who are 10 times more exposed to becoming allergic than men. It is somewhat of a "poor man's disease" because it mostly appears in girls and young women who have their ears pierced and wear cheap trinkets. However, the widespread use of metallic zippers and buttons also causes nickel problems. Small change also often contains much nickel.

Nickel is a relatively non-toxic metallic element or trace substance occuring in very small amounts in the organism. The metal is excreted via sweat or bile, but especially the kidneys which are responsible for 60% of the excretion are the most active regulators of the nickel concentration in the body.

Nickel can weaken the immune defence. Sustained exposure to small amounts of heavy metals is a generally increasing problems since heavy metals are known for being able to disturb the hormonal-, immune-, and nervous system and the body's detoxification- and metabolic processes.

The metals can affect the body's ability to utilize nutrients by making them more difficult to absorb. This, again, can lead to immune defects, allergies, and a generally reduced resistance. An increased bodily level of nickel can be a warning of immunologic problems or an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Experimental animals that have been exposed to large amounts of nickel have reduced cerebral activity and also defects in the heart, liver, lungs, and kidneys. Experiments on animals have shown that air polluted with nickel dust can cause lung cancer. Furthermore, nickel can increase the content of fat in your blood, it can weaken the effect of the hormone adrenaline, and it can increase the effect of insulin.

A few studies have given rise to the suspicion that nickel can be a contributory cause for the loss of skin pigmentation and also be a contributory factor in the development of psoriasis. High blood levels of nickel can be seen in cases of heart attack, stroke, uterine cancer, lung cancer, and pre-eclampsia, but, at the time of writing, it is still unknown whether there really is a connection between nickel and these diseases.

After the industries started using the metal for industrial purposes, the incidence of nickel allergy has significantly increased. It can be difficult to avoid nickel because the metal industries add it to quite a few other metals.

For this reason, nickel can be found in numerous metal goods such as small change, sham bracelets, -necklaces, -earrings, and -rings, wrist watches, glasses, hair clips, hair slides, buttons, zippers, rivets, bra buckles, keys, metal combs, needles, handles and knobs, cutlery, cans, clips, tubes, metal pens, belt buckles, orthodontric braces, water taps, electric water heaters, etc.

The suffering can be further worsened by:
  • Stress.
  • A weakened immune defence.
  • Malnutrition leading to vitamin- and mineral imbalances and -deficiencies.
  • Being sweaty.
  • Smoking - both active and passive smoking.
  • Mercury strain from amalgam fillings which can have damaged the immune defence.
  • Heavy metal strain from e.g. industries and working environments.
Metal strain can be a significant contributory cause and a suspicion that heavy metal strain caused by amalgam fillings can be a cause of nickel allergy has actually been established.


General advice on disease prevention and a healthy lifestyle can be found in the library article "General Advice - for healthy as well as for ill ones" in the VitaHealth section under Focus Articles. You can also test your health by taking our "Health Check".

If you suffer from nickel allergy, you should as far as possible avoid having contact with mixed metallic products and you should only wear trinkets and earrings made of nickel-free, stainless steel and gold of the finest quality (as close to 24 carats (pure gold) as possible). The cheaper the jewels, the larger is the risk of it containing nickel. In several European countries, the sale of nickelous earrings has been prohibited.

You should stay away from clothes with metal zippers, -buttons, or -rivets if you are allergic to nickel. If you do own these kinds of clothes, you should try to remove the metal objects completely or put several layers of plaster on them, thereby preventing them from being in direct contact with your skin. Some people put nail polish on the metal objects, but be aware that there are several substances in the nail polish that can also be harmful to your skin.

Some people who are very sensitive react to nickel in food. If you suffer from frequent nickel eczema, you might periodically have to minimize or totally avoid nickelous foods such as:

Apricots, pineapple, juniper berry, figs, prunes, brown- and white beans, green peas, lentils, soya products, mushrooms, tomates, chocolate, cocoa, cinnamon, cumin, liquorice, marzipan, margarine, black tea, beer, whole grain products, buckwheat, brown rice, oatmeal, millet, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, soya, and all nuts, clams, and shrimps.

The worst sources of nickel, however, is:

Cigarettes, hardened oils, margarine, and soya products. If you reduce the general stress load, the reactions to nickelous food will usually in time be reduced or totally disappear.

Diet-wise, it can be recommended to:
  • Drink plenty of pure water; 1½ - 2 litres a day.
  • Eat a diet that is nutritious and rich in fibres - e.g. vegetables, fruits, and cereals.
  • Drink herbal teas that stimulate the liver and kidneys, e.g. golden rod tea.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables - including spinach as the vitamin B metabolism is often disturbed.
  • Eat cold-pressed plant oils, fish, and seeds in order to cover your need for essential fatty acids.
  • Eat food containing sulphur, e.g. garlic, onion, eggs, and legumes, which bind heavy metals.
  • Eat seaweed (chlorella or kelp) which has a protective effect against heavy metals.
  • Make sure to get enough protein which stabilizes your blood sugar.
For a period of time, it might also be a good idea to avoid:

Dairy products, cheese, sugar, alcohol, coffee, black tea, chocolate, tobacco, beer, and sodas, which usually only create further physical and mental problems and prevent the excretion of heavy metals.

Green tea has a detoxifying and generally strengthening effect and may also prevent cancer (however, cheap teas from India and China should be avoided as they might contain DDT).

Avoid being exposed to toxic minerals and heavy metals such as:
  • Aluminium - in antiperspirant deodorants, pots, and cans.
  • Cadmium - in tobacco smoke, fertilizers, and paint.
  • Lead - in exhaust gas, cans, paint, and printing ink.
  • Mercury, arsenic, and copper.
As the harmful effects of too high concentrations of nickel and other metals can lead to serious deficiency of essential nutrients, you can alleviate this by taking antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, e.g. vitamin C, -E, selenium, and zinc which can avert the damaging effects of free radicals destroying your immune defence and health in general.

For relieving outbreaks of nickel eczema, you can:
  • Use loose-fitting cotton clothes which will be softer to your skin.
  • Avoid too much heat and becoming sweaty as sweat filters nickel out of nickelous trinkets etc.
  • Avoid synthetic fabrics, wool, polyester, and tight-fitting clothes which can itch and irritate your skin.
  • Take an oatmeal bath; put approx. 5 dl. of oatmeal in your bath tub and use oatmeal instead of soap for washing.
The amino acid Glutathione can protect against heavy metal poisoning from nickel, cadmium, mercury, and lead.

Homeopathic nickel, Niccolum metallicum, can cleanse the body of nickel but it may take months or even years before the nickel is completely excreted.

Regarding essential fatty acids (EFA):

Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in flaxseed, cod-liver oil, fatty fish, walnuts, rape, purslane, pumpkin seeds, greens, and wheat germ. 1 tbsp. of cod-liver oil a day or 1 tsp. of ground flaxseed or walnut oil every morning is cheaper than fish oil capsules. If you want, you can add a couple of vitamin E capsules to the flaxseed oil to avoid rancidity.

Omega 6 fatty acids (GLA) can be found in blackcurrant, borage, cold-pressed maize-, sesame-, sunflower-, thistle-, and evening primrose oil, plus seeds.


Be aware of other pollutants:

Do not use deodorants etc. against sweat that contain metallic salts such as aluminium chloride and aluminium sulphate

Do not use aluminium pots for cooking.

Do not use fake nails made of acrylic. Both acrylic and glue might contain formaldehyde and cause contact dermatitis.

Capsaicin from red chili/cayenne in the form of capsules should not be taken during pregnancy.


Also see "Allergy", "Aluminium poisoning", "Amalgam removal - Mercury removal", "Food intolerance", "Heavy metal poisoning", "Lead poisoning", "Mercury poisoning", and "Smoking".

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